Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Del Toro's werewolf film goes back to basics

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A new werewolf movie starring Benicio Del Toro pays homage to vintage Hollywood horror films from yesteryear.

After the buffed-up young lycanthropes of Twilight sequel New Moon, though, is The Wolfman barking up the wrong tree?

Del Toro and Blunt discuss working with Sir Anthony Hopkins on The Wolfman

Almost 70 years have elapsed since Lon Chaney Jr turned into a howling werewolf in 1941 classic The Wolf Man.

Over that time many actors have followed in his footsteps - from Oliver Reed in The Curse of the Werewolf and David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London, to Jack Nicholson in Wolf and David Thewlis in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Last year Taylor Lautner revealed his true colours in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, assisted by CGI effects that instantaneously transformed the teenage hunk into a Lupine beast.

New release The Wolf Man, however, takes a more old-school approach, using elaborate make-up - aided by some digital trickery - to achieve Benicio Del Toro's hairy metamorphosis.

'Deal-breaker'

Having recently played revolutionary leader Ernesto Guevara in two-part epic Che, one might think the Puerto Rican-born actor had had his fill of hirsute characters.

Speaking in London last month, however, the 42-year-old insisted he would not have wanted to make the film in any other way.

Benicio Del Toro in The Wolfman
It took between three and four hours to apply Del Toro's werewolf make-up

"That was the original deal-breaker," he says.

"We wanted to do it in the vein of the old Universal classics, where you get to have the actor behind the make-up.

"It took about four hours to put it on," continues the Usual Suspects actor. "It was fun while it was happening, and once it was finished it was great."

The ordeal, though, came at the end of the day when it was time to remove the mountain of foam, latex, fangs and yak hair applied to his features.

"Taking it off is not fun," the star admits. "It takes around two hours and involves a lot of scraping and scratching."

"That wasn't fun for him," nods Emily Blunt, the British actress who portrays Del Toro's love interest in Joe Johnston's film.

"They would literally scrub him with sandpaper to get that stuff off."

'Ominous'

Like her co-star, though, the 26-year-old believes it was important for his vicious alter-ego to have a perceptibly human element.

"It's strange to see him like that because he looks really ominous," she explains. "You can still see him beneath it.

Emily Blunt in The Wolfman
Blunt's other films include The Devil Wears Prada and The Young Victoria

"But that's what scary about wolf men, vampires and so on - you can see their human side."

Set in Victorian England in the last decade of the 19th Century, The Wolfman sees Del Toro cast as a celebrated actor who returns from America to his ancestral home.

There, with the help of his eccentric father - played by Sir Anthony Hopkins - he investigates how his brother came to be murdered and mutilated by a mysterious creature.

The comely presence of his late sibling's fiancee, played by Blunt, adds a sexual frisson to the Gothic mix.

It is not long, though, before Del Toro's Lawrence Talbot has his own close encounter with the animal in question, leaving him saddled with the werewolf curse.

Boasting decapitated heads, dismembered limbs and eviscerated entrails, Johnston's film is certainly not short of gore or splatter.

For all that, Del Toro says making it came as a light relief after the pressure of bringing Che back to life for director Steven Soderbergh.

'Surreal'

"It was a great de-compressor to go over the top and do something in the vein of the fantastic and surreal," says the actor, who won an Oscar in 2001 for his supporting role in drugs drama Traffic.

"I started filming The Wolf Man about 10 or 11 weeks after I finished shooting Che, so it was like being let loose."

Benicio Del Toro as Che Guevara
Del Toro played Che Guevara in two films directed by Steven Soderbergh

Blunt, too, found the project appealing, though for rather different reasons.

"I had done quite a lot of comedy so I was really attracted to doing something dramatic, eerie and suspenseful," says the Young Victoria actress.

It remains to be seen how audiences will take to a movie that wears its retro feel as a badge of honour.

Some may also approach with caution a movie which lost its original director - Mark Romanek - in pre-production and has had its release date put back by almost a year.

Del Toro, however, says he would not be averse to emulating Chaney Jr by returning to the Wolf Man role in future, should the opportunity ever present itself.

"It's not up to me," he says. "It's up to the success of the film and the studio wanting to do something.

"But if there's a possibility, they'll get together with my people and we'll see what's in store."

The Wolfman is out on 12 February.



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